Black is the new neutral

WASHINGTON • The design world always has an “in” colour it embraces as its neutral. It is the colour you see painted inside spec houses and rentals and popularised in catalogues and online.

While white is always a neutral fallback, beige was favoured in the early 2000s. For the past 10 years, it has been grey.

Now, many in the design world say there is a new neutral in town: black.

Ms Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design at the Home Depot, credits the growing black-painted-room trend to the modern farmhouse craze of the last few years. The style updates classic “country” details by painting them black so they look more modern.

Ms Fishburne painted her dining room black before Thanksgiving.

Her dining room has classic board and batten siding three quarters up its walls and a 3m-high coffer ceiling, which she says “will pop in black”.

Another thing she thinks stands out against her black walls: her art collection. “Like white, black is a blank canvas and it’s super versatile, ” she says.

Ms Briana Nix, a designer for the online decorating service Decorist, agrees that black is extremely versatile – a characteristic that is essential to any neutral.

“Black is a great supporter of all interior styles,” she says. “Whether sleek and modern or rustic farmhouse, black paint and decor offer a sophisticated air to many different looks.”

Beyond making spaces look more stylish, black paint has another useful quality. Some designers say it makes rooms feel bigger.

Houston-based interior designer Dennis Brackeen says this is contrary to what most people think. He says dark colours make a room’s walls recede.

Decorist designer Caitlin McBride adds: “Since the corners of a dark painted room can’t be defined and there isn’t an easy way to tell where they start or end, the walls feel endless.”

She recently painted her laundry room to make it feel bigger (she says it is about the size of a walk-in closet) and add contrast to the large white washing machine and dryer that dominate the space. She has plans to paint her 2.7m-high guest bathroom ceiling black too.

“I want to make the ceiling recede up and out, like you’re looking into space,” she says.

While many are embracing this move to the dark side, Mr Patrick O’Donnell, paint manufacturer Farrow & Ball’s brand ambassador and expert colour consultant, warns that black – or any very dark colour – is not for everyone and certainly not for every room.

He says you should first think about the primary use of the space you are painting.

“You probably wouldn’t want to paint a nursery in black, but in a bedroom, black helps embrace the nighttime darkness and induce a good night’s sleep,” he says.

Another consideration is the direction your room faces.

“If it’s north or east, this is often a great opportunity to go darker, as the idea of painting an ill-lit space white or light can end up feeling dull,” he says.

If a full-blown black room is too much for you, try adding touches of black. Ms Fishburne suggests using black furniture, textiles and accessories in your design mix because “they add weight to very light rooms and additional depth to rooms already painted in a darker hue”.

Ms McBride likes to paint interior doors black and she often uses black curtain rods because “they’re like the eyeliner of window treatments. They draw your eye up the walls to the ceiling, highlighting moulding and other elements that may otherwise be missed”.